Peter Block – Following Angeles

Peter: After listening to such a story from Angeles, you might think she is a difficult act to follow. You might ask, who would want to follow Angeles? And the answer is, everyone.

Angeles and I were once in a gathering, and the afternoon of that session was long. It was long, and it was arduous, and it was full of group process. At the end of the day I said, “How about if Angeles and I design tomorrow morning?” They all said fine. So the next morning we got together, about twenty minutes before the beginning, and we shared a little bit of feeling about the afternoon, and then I said, “Well let’s design the morning, Angeles.” And she said, “Fine, let’s design it.” And I said, “Who goes first?” And she said, “I will.” And I said, “Design meeting over.” So to follow her is a blessing. I am a lifetime follower of hers.

When you hear a story told as Angeles tells it, you reflect on what was so compelling about it? I think it’s in the expressions, it’s in the eyes, it’s in the aliveness, she speaks of what it takes not to be in the procession of the living dead, and then she shows us in the telling. And that to me is what’s breathtaking about it.

I also love the repetition she invites us into. It’s space for me, to wander on my own. It also is our task is to stay in the experience of her story, rather than think about her telling the story. Another incident in that same session we ended up redesigning by having Angeles go first, she told another story. At the end, somebody said, “Boy, I wish I had a video of that.” In other words, instead of staying in the experience of the story, she wanted to memorialize the story, to have it last forever; take it to scale.

Our work now for the next thirty minutes or so, is to stay in the experience of her, and the story she uses as an excuse to show up. I thought, maybe a question for the conversation might be, what part of the experience is still working on you? What’s holding on to you?

I also love in the midst of her poetic, Zapata-like way of telling the story; she tells the story, and I feel like the woman on the other side of the room. Throw me the hat. So in her telling of the story, she is that. I love that, and mixed with that is her love of lists; and I always feel seduced when she says, “Ok, there’s four things…” And then I go, “Oh no, now I got to write something down. What was the third thing? What was fourth thing? There’s two of those, and four of those, I feel like it’s a menu. Five of those, two of those, what was third thing?” So I think she’s tickling the engineer in me, and saying you can’t get away. You can’t escape this. So I would say the question is, what is evoked – what experience is evoked in the presence of that?

Finally, the key part of one of those lists about connecting to community, and in this is the importance of the stranger. It is common in some circles to talk about the stranger within. The shadow. To me, the stranger without is more interesting than the stranger within. There is a tendency in this supportive and inward environment to spend a lot of time on the stranger within – well I have spent a lot of time on the stranger within. And the stranger without is much more communally compelling. So look around and you’ll always say, “Who in this room do I know the least?” And the second is, when you find that person, don’t wait to be chosen. So part of our defense against community is waiting to be chosen – let me sit here, perhaps living the story of the “chosen one”. We all have a story about waiting. We are introvert; In FIRO B I’m low on inclusion, high on control, moderate on the third one, which I can not remember. See, I promise lists of three and I only come up with two. This is my tombstone: Here’s lies Peter. He gave a lot, but promised much more.

So you say, “I’m not going to wait to be chosen – let me find a person here I know the least.” Don’t wait to be chosen, ok, got it? And then you create another group of three.

Peter Block
Peter Block

Now the key element, and what makes the small group powerful, is the injunction not to be useful or helpful in any way, to those other two people; because help is always a form of colonialism. It always positions myself as if I know, and you don’t. And people are always saying, “Well when I was in that situation…” And as soon as they start to say that, the implication was, it worked out well. I always want to say, “Yea. And looked how it turned out.” So my advice, mostly, is littered with things that didn’t work that well. But I’m still determined to package what did not work that well and market it again. Resist that and decide that you refuse to be helpful. You choose to be curious instead of helpful. The most curious question in the world is, “why did that matter to you?” And to me, that is just so useful. And when they answer the question, you say, “Why did that matter to you?” And you ask them the third time, and the fourth time. If they get irritated for asking the same question, ask them, “Why are you irritated with me?” And when they answer, you say, “And why did that matter to you?” Got it? So let’s do that. Find one or two other people you know the least, don’t wait to be chosen, don’t be helpful, and sit in a little circle. The question is, “What’s holding on to you from the experience that’s Angeles just took us through?”